Many times a manager will push defensive fundamental drills early in camp, then allow the players to go about their day towards the end. Chicago Cubs skipper Joe Maddon continues to press to his players the importance of defense, and why it will play a key role in their long-term success.
In recent years, defense hasn’t sat as one of the team’s strong suits. Anthony Rizzo is a solid first baseman, but after that there isn’t necessarily a guy you can point to and say “he could win the Gold Glove this year”. Starlin Castro had a better 2014, but at times still botched the routine, and occasionally looked disinterested in the field.
‘Remember one thing, when I walk out this door, I’m going to look for somebody better than you.’–Gene Thompson, MLB Scout
In a recent spring game, pitcher Edwin Jackson made a miscue on a possible double-play, which would eventually lead to three runs. Making “top plays” on the internet is great, but for Maddon he’s looking for a particular type of defense.
"“I like a boring defense,” Maddon said. “Meaning they make the routine play consistently, and then if you make the big play on occasion, that’s wonderful. h/t Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune"
The departure of Darwin Barney sent away the lynchpin of defense, but his lack of offense meant good defense couldn’t triumph. Now the Cubs, under Maddon, hope to build a balance between the two. And if you can’t get it done on the defensive side? You could end up like Barney.
The team added Dexter Fowler for his leadoff ability, but his defense is something that came with the package. Metrics–which Maddon is a firm believer in–don’t rate Fowler highly. But his time patrolling center was spent in Coors Field and Minute Maid Park–two very spacious parks.
Maddon, who began his coaching as an instructor, believes that Fowler has the ability to be better, and even win a Gold Glove in center field.
This Cubs’ team is filled with a few veterans, and a plethora of young talent. But it’s clear that there are more talented prospects on the horizon if some of these players don’t play to Maddon’s standards, including Addison Russell and Albert Almora.
The skipper shared a story about his scouting mentor Gene Thompson, who passed away in 2006, that sums up the circle of baseball quite well.
"“Whenever (Thompson) walked into a kid’s house to sign him, everyone was happy,” Maddon recalled. “Platitudes, pats on the back, and then he’d walk out the door and tell the kid, ‘Remember one thing, when I walk out this door, I’m going to look for somebody better than you.’"
Getting to the bigs isn’t the biggest achievement–remaining there is. And it takes the same work you put in to get there every single day in order to stay.